SoftBank Robotics' anthropomorphic robot Pepper could be coming to retail and enterprise locations in the U.S. in the near future, following a new partnership announcement between SoftBank and Sprint. The announcement was made via Sprint's own official newsroom blog and may indicate that SoftBank is getting much more serious about its robotics division. To be fair, Pepper was shown off at this year's MWC back in March but had already been in use at various locations around the world as a way for a business to interact with its customers. According to SoftBank, Pepper is able to "discern a person's gender, general age, and mood," and to serve as a "powerful, emotive, engagement tool" to drive business growth.
This new partnership is looking to expand on that, by offering the A.I.-driven robot to Sprint Retail and Business customers, which could effectively create a new wave of sales for the company. To get things started, Sprint will actually be placing Pepper at two of its own location – at its Executive Briefing Center in Overland Park and at its Executive Briefing Center in New York. After that, the company will place a Pepper bot at all four of its Enterprise divisions and will continue providing demonstrations at trade shows and conferences. Meanwhile, two platforms will be available for customers in both the retail and business environments, namely Pepper Host and Pepper Promoter. The Host variation of the platform is responsible for tasks involving customer engagement, information dispersal, and directing visitors of business or location. Pepper Host serves as a way to engage with customers of a retail location or other businesses. Pepper Promoter, as its name might imply, is designed to engage customers through the promotion of services, goods, or a brand. It effectively serves as a unique way to bolster sales. However, the unique human-like features of Pepper and its A.I. systems mean that it could also have a nearly unlimited range of uses in fields of hospitality, travel, financial services, and health care.
Looking past the initial impact the expansion could have on both SoftBank and Sprint, SoftBank Robotics is also looking to gain some insight into how Pepper can be improved on both the A.I. and the robotics technology itself. Those insights will be used to improve the platform and possibly to introduce new platforms. In the meantime, SoftBank also recently acquired Boston Dynamics from Google's parent company, Alphabet. That acquisition appears to have emboldened SoftBank's vision for a robotics-friendly future, which could bode well for both businesses and the customers those businesses serve. Unfortunately, there is no clear timeframe currently set for when the robots will begin making appearances at more locations in the U.S.